Isuzu MU-X VS Audi Q3
- Beefy engine
- Proper off-road credibility
- Improved everywhere that matters
- Price increases everywhere
- Missing some high-tech cabin tech
- Where's the three-pin plug?
- Standard tech features
- Fun but grown-up design
- Massive boot
- 35 TFSI underpowered
- Sporty but harsh suspension
- Still just a three-year warranty
Plenty of fanfare accompanied the arrival of the new D-Max ute from Isuzu, with the new HiLux-botherer more powerful, safer and more technologically advanced than its predecessor.
And where a new D-Max goes, its ute-based SUV sibling, the MU-X, must follow. And sure enough, the new rugged but family friendly SUV has now arrived in Australia, too, presenting a serious off-road and towing option for our market, and one that promises to be more comfortable and more tech-savvy than the model it replaces.
This new MU-X returns to the market with a sharper set of clothes, a prettier face, more grunt under the restyled snout and a whole swag of new features to tempt buyers out of an Everest, Fortuner or Pajero Sport.
Not that it’s had trouble doing that thus far, with Isuzu’s MU-X claiming the title of the number-one selling 'ute-based SUV' for the past seven years. This one, though, doesn’t have the same bargain-basement price tag that it had on debut just under a decade ago.
Putting seven bums on seats, towing toys and getting well off the beaten track is all within its scope, so the Japanese brand’s wagon is seen as a jack of all trades. But - like some tradies - was once a little rough around the edges in terms of refinement and road manners.
The new-look model goes a long way to answer some of those criticisms and looks to offer improved levels of comfort.
We’re getting to grips with the flagship LS-T, but first, let’s look at the new range in its entirety.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
The previous Audi Q3 was like an archetype German businessman. Practical, at times harsh, and ruthlessly efficient, it was the kind of SUV that was good at meeting its KPIs.
Now, though, we’re greeted by an all-new-generation Q3. It’s a bit more fun, a bit more rebellious, a lot more high-tech, and, alarmingly, it looks up to SUV rock stars like the Lamborghini Urus.
But as much fun as it all might seem, the Q3 has an important job, and that’s to carry Audi’s premium small-SUV message to a new generation of buyers, as well as the sensible last-gen Q3 fan. Audi even has big hopes that this car will be over-represented in its 2020 sales mix.
No pressure, then. Can the youthful new Q3 really take on all that’s been asked of it? Read on to find out.
|Engine Type||1.4L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
So many SUVs are bought by – if you’ll pardon the blunt term – breeders who want to look like explorers, with the closest they get to an off-road situation being the school oval when setting up for the fair.
The MU-X isn’t one of those SUVs … its swagger says beach boat launch not boutique car park, with genuine off-road ability and towing prowess. It just happens to cope with suburban duties without being grumpy about, look decent and be able to carry half your offspring’s soccer team when needed.
Isuzu have done plenty to keep the MU-X at the top of its segment. Pricing is no longer the advantage it once was but it’s still packing the attributes on several fronts for a fair fight.
Audi’s new Q3 feels fresh, high-tech, and polished. All things the small SUV will need to be as the brand places ambitious hopes on its little shoulders.
As it is now one of the most spacious small SUVs in the premium segment, it also proves you don’t have to sacrifice practicality for luxury.
While this entry-level 35 TFSI ships with a so-so engine, keep in mind that it is far from the definitive Q3 experience. There’s much more to come with the rest of the range, later in 2020.
Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with travel and meals provided.
Sculpted flanks and more shoulders shape have replaced the somewhat slab-sided look of its predecessor, with the wheel arch flares now a little more integrated into the sides of the new MU-X.
The awkward window treatment on the rear corner of the outgoing MU-X has been replaced by a slimmer C-pillar and a more conventional window shape, which suggests a better view for those seated in the third row.
The strong shoulder line and a squarer stance gives the MU-X plenty of presence on the road, with eye-catching styling at the front and the rear, the latter probably more in need of attention than the snout in the case of the previous MU-X.
I mentioned the Lamborghini Urus before, because there are more than a few little nods to Audi’s Italian subsidiary in the new Q3’s design. These stem from the larger Q8’s bold design language and will make themselves even more apparent in the upcoming Q3 Sportback (due later in 2020). Here in the regular hatch, the aggressive, angular influences are still subtly apparent.
It’s just a lot more fun to look at than its predecessor, yet the hatch at least runs the fine line of not looking too controversial for fans of the more conservative, outgoing model.
Highlights include the new grille, rhomboid air dam bits around the edges, a lower splitter and Audi’s new upright grille, which unites its SUV range.
Down the sides there are the strong bulges over the wheel arches, on the body line above the doorhandles and, from the rear, a progression of the previous car’s bulbous edges, now with a more angular bent.
The LED headlights tie the front end together in style. The pictures somehow don’t quite do it justice, because it’s even nicer to look at in the metal.
The inside is where the real wow factor is, however, with the Q3 presenting an almost shrunken-down version of the Q8’s tech-laden interior. It’s nice to see a strong design theme here, with a dash that cascades down in layers, centred by an asymettrical multimedia interface, and a massive 10.1-inch screen, tipped slightly towards the driver.
It’s in danger of looking busy, but somehow all the parts and disparate materials work together nicely. It’s probably do do with the way all the hexagonal silver frames complement each other, as well as the surrounding switchgear.
It’s a lovely place to be, surrounded by such slick design, but it’s not without its flaws. Chinks in the Q3’s luxurious armour include the oddly tall gear knob, which looks like it would be more suited to a $20k Volkswagen Polo, and the abundance of firm surfaces around your knee and elbows.
Second only to the Ford Everest in overall length, the MU-X sits at 4850mm long - a 25mm increase - with 10mm of that added to the wheelbase that’s now 2855mm long, 5mm longer than the Ford.
The new MU-X is 1870mm wide and 1825mm tall (1815mm for the LS-M), up 10mm, although the wheel track remains unchanged at 1570mm.
The ground clearance has improved by 10mm to 235mm for all bar the 230mm listed for the LS-M base-model.
What has reduced - by 35mm - is overall height to sit below the Everest, Pajero Sport and Fortuner rooflines, with a 10mm reduction in front overhang and a 25mm addition to the rear overhang.
Cargo and cabin space have benefitted from the dimensional improvements. The former in particular has risen – with all seats occupied the maker claims 311 litres of luggage space (up from 286 in the outgoing vehicle), rising to 1119 litres (measured to SAE standard) in five-seater mode, an improvement of 68 litres.
If there’s a sojourn to a Swedish furniture warehouse on the cards, with the second and third rows folded the new MU-X boasts 2138 litres, which is a slight reduction on the outgoing model’s 2162 litres.
The cargo space is, however, more user-friendly in the way the seating can folded to provide a flat loadspace.
The boot is accessed by a higher-opening tailgate and there’s underfloor storage as well, which can be utilised when all three rows are occupied.
Flexibility is king in these SUVs and the new MU-X can offer myriad interior seating and cargo options.
The width within feels sufficient in the front two seats, the occupants of which have access to plenty of storage in the console or dashboard, with two gloveboxes.
Neither are massive but there’s a decent amount of useful space, marred only by an odd boxed section in the upper glovebox that looks to have been made for something not offered in this market.
The centre console under the driver’s left elbow has a useful amount of space, but it’s more likely you’ll use the console storage ahead of the gear selector.
It’s ideal for phones and is just screaming out for a wireless charging pad in addition to the USB and 12-volt outlets already there.
That said, the latter was strangely devoid of current – we couldn’t get a number of different plugs to work in the front or rear 12-volt outlet.
The door pockets front and rear can carry a 1.5-litre bottle, part of a cohort of a dozen beverage holder options.
Front occupants get two cupholders in the centre console and one under each outboard vent, which function well great for keeping drinks warm or cool - there’s a similar set-up in the Toyota duo too.
The middle row has the only ISOFIX mounts - on the outboard seats - and tethers for all three positions, as well as cupholders in the armrest and two USB charge points; there are vents and fan controls in the roof (but no roof speakers any more).
The backrests of the front seats are equipped with map pockets, as well as a shopping bag hook on the passenger’s side.
Sadly there’s no sign of a three-pin domestic power plug for 230-240 volt devices that pops up on its opposition.
The seat base doesn’t slide for the second row to tailor its legroom but the backrest does recline a little.
At 191cm I can sit behind my own driving position, with some margin for head and legroom; time in the third row would need to be limited to short trips unless you’re in the single-digit age bracket.
Two cupholders sit outboard of the third row, along with some oddment storage.
There’s no USB outlets but the 12-volt outlet in the cargo area would work in a pinch if it could be convinced to supply power.
The powered rear tailgate emitted a triple-beep and refused to open, a function we later found out was instigated by the presence of a trailer plug in the socket.
Just as the rear parking sensors now recognise the presence of a trailer when in reverse, the tailgate function was designed to prevent it hitting anything on the tow ball. Let’s hope the same level of attention to feedback is focussed on the active safety system functionality and switches.
Put simply, the Q3 is brilliantly packaged. Sure, it’s bigger, having grown its wheelbase by 77mm over the previous model, but it really makes the most of every extra millimetre.
Front passengers get a customisable space, with plenty of movement in the front seats (despite that lame manual adjustment) and a fully telescopically adjustable steering column. Visibility is excellent for the driver, with big, upright glasshouse-like windows and chunky mirror fittings.
All the digital displays are fast to operate and present slick designs, but a few shortcut buttons would have been welcome for the multimedia system. I was pleased to see that Audi has stuck with analog dials for quick and easy control of the dual-zone climate system.
Storage areas for front passengers include large bottle holders in each door card, dual bottle holders in the centre console - with a neat slot separating them, suited to a phone - a Qi wireless charging bay in front of the geark nob, also suited to wallets and phones, as well as your standard-fare glovebox and a smallish centre console.
All seats get leagues of headroom, and there was still great legroom behind my own driving position in the back seat ( I’m 182cm tall). That said, the Q3 is more of a four-seater for adults. The centre rear seat is truly tiny, and legroom is interrupted by the transmission tunnel, which will facilitate all-wheel drive in future variants.
The rear seats also get those big bottle holders in the doors, as well as a set of adjustable air vents, a 12-volt power outlet and two USB-C outlets on the back of the centre console.
Saving the most impressive Q3 practicality trick for last, we come to its luggage area. At a minimum, with the rear seats in their default position, it weighs in at 530-litres (VDA). That’s a lot more than the BMW X1, X2, Benz GLA, Lexus UX or Mini Countryman. In fact, it’s easily playing in a load area in the segment above. The only luxury small SUV that pips it here is the much more expensive Range Rover Evoque.
But that’s not all, because the Q3 has its second row of seats on rails, meaning – if your passengers don’t need any semblance of legroom - you can expand it to well over 600L, or with the seats down, a maximum of 1525L. That's massive.
The luggage shelf can also be stowed under the boot floor – where an unfortunate compromise lies in the form of a space-saver spare. It would be nice to see a full-size spare for the Australian market.
Price and features
Entry to the new MU-X range, which is offered with rear and 4WD models on all three tiers, starts with the MU-X LS-M, priced from $47,900 for the 4X2 and $53,900 for the 4X4 – price increases of $4000 and $2700 respectively.
While it’s not a hose-out mud-plugger, the LS-M is still the rough’n’ready version of the range, with black sidesteps, cloth trim, manual front seat adjustment (including height for the driver), plastic steering wheel and carpet flooring, but it still gets the long-awaited rear diff lock and electric park brake.
There’s manual air conditioning with roof-mounted rear vents and a separate fan control to keep the rear rows well-ventilated.
Unlike some entry-level models, the base model here isn’t deprived on the lighting front, with the automatic bi-LED headlights (auto-levelling and with automatic high-beam control), as well as LED daytime running and rear lights, rain-sensing wipers, rear parking sensors and a reversing camera.
The middle child of the MU-X family is the LS-U, and it offers a little more comfort to the occupants and some nicer exterior touches, too, helping justify the price jump to $53,900 ($7600 over the outgoing vehicle) for the 4x2, and $59,900 for the 4x4 model, rising $6300 over the superseded model.
Body-coloured exterior mirrors and door handles replace the black plastic trim of the base model, with roof rails, rear ‘privacy’ glass and LED foglight added to the list. The front grille also changes to silver and chrome, the alloy wheels grow to 18 inches and are now wrapped in highway-biased rubber.
Also growing - by two inches - is the centre infotainment display, which adds integrated satellite navigation and voice recognition to its repertoire, as well as doubling the number of speakers to eight.
Dual-zone climate-control, LED-lit front vanity mirrors for both front occupants, front parking sensors and a remote powered rear tailgate are among the other extras added, while the exterior sidesteps are now silver.
The interior is accessed by keyless ‘smart’ entry (with auto-locking once the driver wanders more than three metres away) and while the cloth trim is retained, it’s a higher grade and the cabin is littered with piano black, silver and chrome highlights.
For the driver there’s now a leather-wrapped wheel and gear-shifter, as well as a powered lumbar-support adjustment.
The flagship of the new MU-X range remains the LS-T. Chief among the changes that will betray its top-spec nature are the attractive two-toned machined alloy wheels and the leather-trimmed interior.
The top-spec model sneaks in at $59,900 for the 4x2 (up a substantial $9,800), and rises to $65,900 for the 4WD model, which is a $8500 jump over the old model.
That buys a two-inch jump in wheel size to 20 inches, and “quilted” leather trim for the seats, interior door trims and the centre console, as well as two-stage seat heating for the two front seats.
The LS-T’s driver’s seat boasts eight-way power-adjustment, with LED ambient interior lighting, embedded ambient lighting in the gear selector, tyre pressure monitoring and an auto-dimming centre mirror among the extras for the driver.
Buyers of the flagship will also benefit from the remote engine-start function, ideal for cooling a long-parked car on Australian summer days.
In terms of its competitive set, the MU-X increased price tag hasn’t pushed it beyond the parameters set by its competition, but it does erode the Isuzu’s value advantage.
Ford’s Ranger-based Everest starts at $50,090 for the RWD 3.2 Ambiente and tops out at $73,190 for the Titanium 2.0 4WD model.
Toyota’s Fortuner offers only a 4WD model for its Hilux-based wagon, which starts at $49,080 for the entry-level GX, rising to $54,340 for the GXL and finishing with the Crusade at $61,410.
Mitsubishi’s Pajero Sport starts from $47,490 for the GLX five-seater, but for a seven-seater it’s the GLS - priced from $52,240 - that’s required; the Triton-based wagon range tops out at $57,690 for the Exceed seven-seater.
The Q3 needs to plug an important gap in Audi’s lineup where it’s losing sales to recently launched competitors. These include the BMW X1 or X2, the Lexus UX, and the Mini Countryman.
There’s also a new Mercedes-Benz GLB on the way, plus a new-generation GLA, so keep an eye out for those. Audi will be.
Price-wise, the Q3 enters Australia in just one variant, the entry-level, petrol-powered 35 TFSI, offered at an MSRP of $46,400.
While it’s marginally more expensive than its entry-level, luxury small-SUV competitors (and about on par for power, too) it’s the standard equipment list that truly shines in the Audi.
Even this entry-level Q3 gets 18-inch alloy wheels, a 10.1-inch multimedia touchscreen, built-in sim card supporting online sat-nav, a wireless hotspot and over-the air updates for three years, Audi’s signature 10.21-inch digital dash, Android Auto connectivity and wireless (!) Apple CarPlay, complete with a wireless-charging bay, dual-zone climate control, real leather interior trim, an electronic tailgate with gesture control, and full LED front lighting.
Deep breaths. Did you get all that? There’s no subscription required for the wireless Apple CarPlay (I'm looking at you, BMW) and it’s particularly impressive to see the electric tailgate as a standard inclusion. Audi says the new Q3 ships with $12,000 worth of inclusions over its outgoing equivalent. Not bad at all.
My biggest complaint with the entry-level configuration was the somewhat non-premium feeling of the manually adjustable seats.
Electrically adjustable seats are part of the Q3’s remarkably short options list, which consists (for now) of the ‘Style Package’ ($1900), which includes 19-inch wheels, full colour body paint (removes the contrast black bits), and aluminium highlights, or the ‘Comfort Package’ ($2600), which includes electrically adjustable heated front seats, auto-folding and dipping wing mirrors with an electro-chromatic (auto-dimming) rear-vision mirror, and adaptive cruise control.
Alternatively you can bundle some of those bits together with the limited “Launch Edition” variant ($52,750), which includes a unique 19-inch-alloy design, metallic paint, privacy glass, auto-folding and dimming mirrors, customisable interior LED lighting, electrically adjustable and heated seats, a 360-degree parking suite, and adaptive cruise control.
The only other standalone options are limited to a Bang & Olufsen premium audio system ($900) and a panoramic opening sunroof ($2250).
Expect that lineup to get more complicated with the launch of 2.0-litre, all-wheel-drive and RS variants, as well as a Sportback body style later in 2020.
For now, though, the Q3 justifies its slight extra spend over its competitors with an impressive list of standard inclusions.
Engine & trans
So the new MU-X is powered by the 4JJ3-TCX – a 3.0-litre, common-rail, direct-injection four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine that is a descendant of the outgoing MU-X powerplant, albeit with additional exhaust emissions gear to reduce output of nitrogen oxide and hydrogen sulphide.
But Isuzu claims the extra focus on emissions hasn’t harmed the outputs, which have grown by 10kW to 140kW at 3600rpm and there’s a 20Nm increase in torque to 450Nm between 1600rpm and 2600rpm.
The new engine has a variable geometry turbocharger (although now with electric control) force-feeding the engine to good effect, with new block, head, crankshaft and aluminium pistons and a higher-mounted intercooler.
As was the case with previous incarnations of the wagon and its utility sibling, the relaxed midrange torque of this under-stressed engine is what appeals to many drivers indulging in towing and off-roading.
Isuzu claims the midrange torque output has improved, with 400Nm on offer from 1400rpm through to 3250rpm and 300Nm is produced from just 1000rpm, assertions that have a ring of truth in them after some time behind the wheel.
Isuzu has avoided a selective catalytic reduction (SCR) system that requires AdBlue, instead choosing a lean nitrogen oxide (NOx) trap (LNT) that minimises nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions to Euro 5b standards.
There’s also a new high-pressure direct injection fuel system featuring a 20 per cent more efficient fuel pump, sending the diesel through new high-efficiency injectors into the newly-engineered combustion chamber.
A maintenance-free steel timing chain is claiming to be quieter and more durable by way of a double scissor idle gear set that Isuzu says improves durability and reduces engine rattle and vibration.
That does come through in the drive, with lower levels of engine noise in the cabin, but there’s no doubting the engine type under the bonnet.
A six-speed automatic and part-time 4WD system is also carried over from the workhorse sibling, a transmission that’s had work done to improve shift quality and speed, something that’s apparent from time behind the wheel.
The addition of a rear differential lock will also please off-roaders, but a rear-drive or full-time option for the 4WD system for sealed surfaces is still exclusive to the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport.
The auto has retained its smarts when it comes to down-changing for engine braking on long descents, something that can be done by manual change as well - it won’t over-rule and up-change against the driver’s wishes in manual mode either.
For now the Q3 is available with only one engine option, a 1.4-litre, four-cylinder turbo producing 110kW/250Nm. Although power figures are on par with its main competitors, it still feels underwhelming for a premium product.
The 35 TFSI drives the front wheels only via a six-speed version of the brand’s ‘s-tronic’ dual-clutch automatic.
A more powerful 2.0-litre petrol engine with a seven-speed dual-clutch and all-wheel drive (the 45 TFSI Quattro) will arrive later in 2020, but the 2.0-litre 35 TDI diesel available overseas has been ruled out for Australia.
Any fuel economy claim in single digits is going to be pleasing to the pump-watchers, and the MU-X is one for the fuel-misers, despite its thirst going up just under half-a-litre per 100km over its predecessor.
Mind you, this is over a 20-minute test cycle in an emissions laboratory in two uneven timeframes, weighted toward the urban cycle which has a 19km/h average speed and plenty of time at idle while the shorter highway cycle records a 63km/h average speed and a peak of 120km/h, which we would of course never do here.
After we had covered almost 300km the MU-X LS-T was - according to its trip computer - averaging 10.7 litres per 100km, at a 37km/h average speed, which betrays the largely metropolitan duties performed to that point, with no towing or off-roading.
That would, in theory, bring the touring range down to somewhere around 800km from the newly expanded 80-litre fuel tank, a 15-litre increase in tank capacity, although there’s no reason to doubt the long-legged touring number of 7.2 litres per 100km (the laboratory highway figure).
The fuel economy rose to 11.7 litres per 100km after a 200km round trip with horse float and four-legged occupant, having hovered in the region of 10 litres per 100km (at a 38km/h average speed) for the day-to-day duties prior.
It would seem unfair to comment on the 35 TFSI’s fuel usage over our brief and enthusiastic drive program around Byron Bay.
This engine and transmission combination produces an official combined-fuel-consumption figure of 7.2L/100km for the base car with no inclusions, or 7.3L/100km in the Launch Edition trim.
For the record, our two-day drive program had most cars producing figures around the 8.0L/100km mark. Competitors claim lower numbers but are measured to a previous, more lenient official measurement standard.
The Q3 has a stop/start system to help trim fuel usage down in traffic.
What is immediately apparent - even when first started and driving in cold conditions - is the lower noise levels in the cabin.
Certainly occupants are still aware there’s a four-cylinder diesel toiling away under the snout, but it’s far more distant than in the previous car, something that can also be said for exterior noise in general.
The leather-trimmed seating is comfortable from all reports across three rows, although the third row space is snug for those heading into their teens, but the view is improved over the outgoing car.
Ride comfort from the new front and rear suspension set-ups has improved, without too much body roll or sagging under towing loads; the steering feels better-weighted and less remote than in the car it replaces, with an improved turning circle.
The front end has an all-new double wishbone design with stiffer spring rates and a redesigned anti-roll bar, while the rear has a five-link coil sprung set-up with a wider rear anti-roll bar to handle an increased payload when towing, whilst still remaining comfortable when unladen, says Isuzu.
A sojourn with horse float behind showed some dipping under load - as you’d expect - but ride wasn’t severely impacted and the engine’s meaty mid-range rose to the task.
A load-distribution hitch might well be worth selecting from the accessories catalogue if hefty towing loads are likely to be a regular chore.
The automatic transmission has kept its intuitive shifting smarts, down-changing on descents when the driver’s inputs suggest it’s required.
I also made use of the manual change mode, where the auto doesn’t overrule the driver, but it’s far from requisite behaviour when towing except perhaps to prevent over-eager up changes to 6th gear.
Dropping the nag and float from the tow bar and there was a brief flirtation with the 4WD selector and the rear diff lock, with low range demonstrating a quicker operation.
Useful wheel travel from the revamped rear end showed good traction going over the large suspension-test hump, where improved off-road angles meant no graunching and the road rubber had no dramas dealing with long wet grass as a result.
A short stint of beach driving - on road tyres in high range - demonstrated the prowess of the Isuzu seven-seater in soft sand but it needed the electronics switched off to prevent undue interference.
Low range not needed until the very soft sand was encountered and the new rear diff lock never looked like being required, so clearly we need to find more serious terrain.
The area where the MU-X needs more development is in some of the functional operations for the driver - it seems odd, for example, that the radio stations list can’t be accessed when on the move but all the settings menu (at least on the centre display) can be modified.
The wheel controls are also in need of some work, with the “mute” and “mode” functions on the same button, yet there’s a blank to its left that could be used?
On the right-hand spoke the menu function for accessing the active safety functions - some of which are abrupt and require disabling prior to towing - is overly involved and can only be accessed when stationary.
It can take up to 60 seconds (when you know what you need to find) to snooze or disable these functions and it needs to be done every time you start the vehicle. Isuzu have received feedback on this issue and maintain they are looking into it.
This new Q3 manages to feel lighter, more agile and more engaging behind the wheel, despite its engine, which had to try rather hard to keep up with the demands on our drive program.
There's quite often a second of turbo-lag to deal with, or a slightly reluctant transmission finding the right gear when you blast around a corner. Once that turbo peak torque does arrive, however, the Q3 skips ahead at a decent pace, befitting its new look and sporty demeanour.
For everyday sort of driving scenarios it’s powerful enough, but at freeway speeds it does feel like the engine has little in reserve for those moments where you need a burst for overtaking.
The engine itself is reasonably quiet, only revealing a satisfying bumble past about 4000rpm, but road noise was worse than I expected, even on the smallest 18-inch wheels.
The steering is excellent. It’s light, but full of feel in the corners, and confidence in the twisty stuff is backed by independent rear suspension.
Similarly to the previous-generation Q3, the suspension tune is hard. Combine that with the Q3’s newfound light feel and it’s almost as though you’re piloting a very upright hot hatch.
This proved entertaining for blasting around country B-roads, as we did at the launch, but I could easily envision the springy and at times crashy ride getting tiresome on routine commutes.
It has to be said that many buyers looking to a premium SUV will be looking for that sporty feel, despite being a bit at odds with the 35 TFSI’s base engine.
Again, we’ll be keen to get our hands on the incoming all-wheel-drive variants, as well as optional adaptive dampers, which will be available later in 2020.
A major step forward for Isuzu’s family wagon has been in the safety features list, which is now comprehensively packed with active and passive safety equipment.
While we had the LS-T on test the ANCAP crash-testing brigade completed their assessment of the new Isuzu wagon and delivered a five-star ANCAP result under the most recent testing regime, not entirely unexpected given the D-MAX on which it is based scored a similarly-high ranking.
The body is 10 per cent stiffer and stronger, thanks to the use of ultra-high strength steel in the bulkhead, sills and body pillars; compared with the previous MU-X, Isuzu claims the new body uses twice the amount of high- and ultra-high tensile steel in the construction.
The brand says it has also engineered an extra 157 spot welds have been added across key areas of the body during the manufacturing process to improve strength and rigidity.
Inside the cabin there are eight airbags that cover all three rows, with the front occupants getting the most protection - the driver and front passenger get dual front, driver’s knee, dual side and curtain airbags, the latter stretching back to the third row.
There’s also a front-centre airbag - far from common in any vehicle segment - which protects front-seat occupants from head collisions in a crash.
But the features designed to prevent an impact in the first place is where the MU-X has made much ground, with its 3D-camera-based Intelligent Driver Assistance System (IDAS) to detect and measure obstacles - vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists - to reduce the severity or event prevent an incident.
The MU-X range has automatic emergency braking with turn assist and forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control with stop-go function,
There’s also ‘Misacceleration Mitigation’, a mouthful which equates to a system that prevents the driver from unintentionally driving into the obstacle in front during slow speed situations of up to 10km/h, as well as rear cross-traffic alert, blind spot monitoring and driver attention monitoring are all part of the safety arsenal.
The multi-faceted lane keeping assist system is operational above 60km/h and will either alert the driver when the vehicle is venturing out of the lane or actively steer the MU-X back towards the centre of the lane.
The only fly in the safety ointment is the driver needs 60 to 90 seconds before getting underway to snooze or turn off some of the active safety systems, which are in some instances far from subtle and an annoyance to the driver.
Most brands manage to have less involved processes - involving in most cases a single albeit long push of one button to distract, disable or decrease the lane departure and blindspot correction and warnings.
Perhaps all the blank buttons left over on either side of the gear selector could be utilised for these systems, rather than being buried in the centre display menu via the helm-mounted controls?
Isuzu have had some feedback on this and says other options are being considered.
The new MU-X has also been endowed with better braking performance with bigger front ventilated discs, which now measure 320mm in diameter and 30mm thick, up 20mm in diameter; the rear discs measure an unchanged 318x18mm.
Also new is the electronic park brake with automatic hold function, something that has not yet appeared in its utility sibling.
Key among the tasks likely to be completed by vehicles in this segment is towing - heavy cumbersome things like boats, caravans or horse floats.
It’s an area where the new MU-X is going to make ground, boasting a 500kg increase in braked towing capacity to 3500kg, within a gross combined mass of 5900kg.
Here’s where the shell-game of weights on trailers and in vehicles comes into play.
With a gross vehicle mass of 2800kg - a kerb weight of 2175kg and a 625kg payload - a full load on the tow ball of 3.5 tonnes would leave just 225kg of payload within the MU-X.
The Isuzu matches Ford’s Everest for GCM, of 5900kg, with the Pajero Sport listed at 5565kg and Toyota’s Fortuner GCM coming in at 5550kg; the Ford and Toyota both claim braked towing capacity of 3100kg and the Mitsubishi sits at an even 3000kg.
But the 2477kg Ford with its 3100kg maximum braked load on the tow bar has 323kg of payload remaining, whereas the lighter Toyota with the same braked towing claim has 295kg of payload to spare.
Mitsubishi’s three-tonne braked towing capacity and its 2110kg kerb weight leaves 455kg of payload within the 5565kg gross combined mass.
The Q3 now scores the all-important set of active items as standard across the range, including auto emergency braking (AEB – works from 5km/h to 85km/h for pedestrians or cyclists, and up to 250km/h for vehicles), blind-spot monitoring (BSM), lane-keep assist (LKAS) with lane-departure warning (LDW), Rear cross-traffic alert (RCTA), and driver-attention alert (DAA).
Sadly, active cruise control lives on the options list as a part of the ‘Comfort Package,’ or as standard on the Launch Edition.
The Q3 was awarded a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating in time for its launch, sporting six airbags as well as the expected stability and brake controls.
While it might not have as comprehensive an active-safety suite as some non-premium cars, it’s still well ahead of the BMW X1 and Benz GLA, while falling on a par with, or just ahead of, the Mini Countryman and Lexus UX.
Isuzu has backed the new MU-X to a greater extent than most of its opposition, starting with a six-year/150,000km factory warranty.
The MU-X has “up to” seven years roadside assistance when serviced through Isuzu dealer network under the seven-years capped price servicing program, which the brand says is around 12 per cent cheaper than that of the superseded model.
Maintenance is required every 15,000km or 12 months, which puts it at the top end of the spectrum for intervals (Toyota still sits at six months or 10,000km while Mitsubishi and Ford match the MU-X interval), with capped price servicing between $389 and $749 for a seven-year total of $3373.
Audi, along with many other premium automakers, lags behind the industry-accepted standard with a lacklustre three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty. BMW is sticking with a similar promise and, unsurprisingly, so is Mercedes.
Lexus is only marginally better, with four-year coverage. It would be nice to see a premium manufacturer take some initiative here (especially since much of the Audi running gear is the same as the VW stuff, which is covered by an extra two years of warranty).
The Q3 will need to be serviced once a year or every 15,000km and capped-price servicing is covered by pre-packaged ‘Service Plans,’ which can be purchased at the same time as the vehicle. Pricing is TBA on the new Q3, but the previous one cost $1610 for three years or $2590 for five. That's premium-car cheap.